Love and Strategy
Last week I wrote a blog reflecting on what our anti-violence movement can learn from Dr. King’s principles of non-violence. The focus of that piece was on building the Beloved Community as the purpose of our work, and that got me talking a lot about love.
As someone who geeks out on strategy and strategic thinking, this is not a post I would have written a few years ago. My head and my heart were amicably working from their own separate spheres. And while I loved love, I would not have considered it to be the serious talk – or work – of strategists.
But after spending time with Dr. King’s autobiography and listening to his speeches, I came to realize that love was an integral part of his vision, strategy, and tactics. The strategy geek in me sat up and paid attention. Dr. King’s unwavering commitment to see the best in his opponents and to call forth the good in them was an intentional strategy: it created the space for his opponents to see that possibility in themselves and to accept the invitation to be part of the change. While this was an immediate tactic to help move opponents, it was also part of the long-term strategy to create the conditions for a community in which all people could thrive together. Dr. King said,
“With every ounce of energy we must continue to rid this nation of the incubus of segregation. But we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege and our obligation to love. While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create a beloved community.”
So what does this mean for our modern anti-violence movement?
Are we to abhor rape while loving the rapist? If we really want to create a world free of violence where everyone is able to reach their full potential, I think the answer must be yes.
Why is it strategic to choose love?
A couple of weeks ago, my husband’s friend came over to watch football with us. During a lull in the game he suddenly sat up and turned to me and said fervently, “I really need to talk to you about rape.” It turns out that he had recently stumbled across the statistic that 1 in 4 women is raped in her lifetime and he was totally flummoxed by the math – what did that mean about the number of rapists in the U.S.? He actually said, “Does that mean that the guys who rape, rape a lot? Because I don’t know anyone who would rape.”
This incredibly smart, progressive guy couldn’t imagine that he knew anyone who had engaged in sexual assault because we paint rapists as evil men, as monsters. He doesn’t know any evil monsters. Ergo, he doesn’t know any rapists.
When we make the people evil and we hate them instead of the acts they do, we shut down opportunity for change. You are either a monster who does these terrible things, or you are good. It is human nature not to believe that we ourselves are evil, or that the people we love are evil. Therefore none of us could possibly be part of the problem.
I think we know that a lot of “good guys” engage in behaviors along the spectrum of violence against girls and women. That’s part of what makes the math work. It’s a culture of violence that is so insidious that a lot of boys and men who are not evil people — who go on to love their children, care for their parents, and contribute to their community — have engaged in these acts. The inconvenient truth is that they are our friends, our fathers, our brothers, our sons. And this culture is destroying them too.
While I believe this to be true based on lived experience, research also supports it. In a recent study out of the University of North Dakota 31 percent of straight male respondents reported that they would “force a woman to have sex if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.” 31 percent.
This is mind-blowing. This was a random sample of regular guys. Not screened for being particularly evil. If we insist on the binary thinking that men who rape (or would rape) must be “monsters,” then North Dakota has a serious monster problem.
As shocking as this research is I don’t think we can afford to paint all these guys as monsters. I think we need to acknowledge that we are all products of a noxious rape culture with the capacity to do both evil and good and to start working Dr. King’s 6 steps of non-violent social change to find ways to engage boys and men with goodwill and a belief in their goodness, to educate, to name the injustices and work to shift their understanding and their willingness to change, and ultimately to move toward reconciliation as a community.
I am not saying this will be easy. Or that folks will magically come along. It will require us to understand where our opponents are coming from, engage in courageous conversations, demand justice, and resist anything less — and then to do it again and again. But love is a powerful force for implementing the demands of justice. And I think it is our best strategy for breaking the cycle of violence and creating a world where there is justice for all.
Stay tuned for future blogs in this series reflecting on what we can learn from Dr. King’s use of direct action to motivate his opponents to move toward justice when appeals to their better nature fell short.
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